Forget size, it's time that matters. And "Godzilla," that scaly monster of hype, hucksterism and hubris that clocks in at 140 minutes, takes too long by about half.
Story, character and artistic vision matter too, and "Godzilla" comes up way short on all three.
Writer-director Roland Emmerich and writer-producer Dean Devlin, whose last outing, "Independence Day," delighted audiences with its big, brazen effects and cheeky attitude, commit almost every sin they avoided in that outlandish celebration of kitsch. "Godzilla" suffers from a dearth of narrative tension, likable characters, humor and -- most important -- imagination.
"Godzilla" is a clip-job on celluloid. Having swiped pages from nearly every disaster movie they've ever seen -- including "The Poseidon Adventure," their favorite -- Emmerich and Devlin try to draw attention away from their larceny by distracting product placements. These range from Blockbuster Video to Hershey's chocolate (not to mention a shameless pander to Ebert and Siskel who are evoked in the form of the New York mayor and his advisor). The only thing missing is a mess of Taco Bell burritos. At least Dinky the chihuahua had the astute career acumen to stick with the ad campaign and skip the movie.
There's a word for what "Godzilla" really is. But it's not fit for polite company. Not only should filmgoers not bother seeing "Godzilla," they should storm the ramparts of Tristar Pictures and demand some compensation for the time spent enduring the movie's endless marketing on television, in newspapers and in theaters. This is a rip-off on the order of New Coke, with none of the taste.
To assay a synopsis of this overblown case of consumer fraud assumes there is a plot to synopsize. There isn't. A mega-ton lizard -- made huge by nuclear explosions in the Polynesian Islands in the 1960s -- is cutting a destructive swath from the South Seas to the Eastern Seaboard. A biologist (Matthew Broderick) is dispatched to help foil the monster.
When the amphibious behemoth stomps into Manhattan, the military is called out. An ambitious twit of a would-be anchor-woman (Maria Pitillo), works the story that will make her famous. A mysterious Frenchman (Jean Reno) shows up, claiming to be an insurance investigator.
For an excruciating two hours and 20 minutes, "Godzilla" asks the audience to care about these colorless, forgettable characters while it assails us with endless sequences of buzzing helicopters, ever-louder gunfire and enough strobe lights to induce seizures.
Hewing to the rule of the best creature features, Emmerich only shows the monster in tantalizing bits and pieces for the first half-hour. But when Godzilla finally stretches out to full Flatiron Building length, what a letdown. Cobbled together from "Jurassic Park" raptors and "Alien's" steel-jawed mama monster, the B-movie classic has been pumped up all out of recognition and personality (not helped by the fact that almost the entire movie is filmed through a murky scrim of rain).
The most distressing thing about "Godzilla" is how seriously it takes itself. What humor Devlin and Emmerich attempt is with lame jokes about Broderick's character's Greek name and American coffee. Any film that doesn't take full advantage of Harry Shearer -- who plays a sharky newsman -- is in very deep need of a funny-bone scan.
Such weak human elements make a compelling title character even more crucial, but after the first flattened taxi and hot spray of 'Zilla spit, all visual and narrative interest ceases. At $120 million, you'd expect more dazzling lizardry, but whether it's fire or fish-breath, this "Godzilla" really blows.
Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Released by Tristar Pictures
Sun Score *
Pub Date: 5/20/98